Archive for the ‘ Early American Studies ’ Category

Protected: Annotation: Walter Johnson’s “Introduction: A Person with a Price” to Soul By Soul (1999)

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Protected: Annotation: Matthew Pratt Guterl’s “The American Mediterranean” (2008)

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Annotation: Paul Baepler’s “Introduction” to White Slaves, African Masters (1999)

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Baepler, Paul. “Introduction.” White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

In his introduction to White Slaves, African Masters Baepler directs our attention to the largely neglected genre of Barbary captivity narratives. While many today may be familiar with Mary Rowlandson’s tale of captivity among the “savage” Indians or Frederick Douglass’ famous slave narrative, stories about the seizure of American sailors, merchants, and women along the Barbary Coast have somehow been forgotten, relegated to distant memory. Baepler contends, however, that Barbary captivity played a significant role in shaping the early political policies of the new republic. For instance, it “forced the government to pay humiliating tributes in cash and military arms to African rulers, stimulated the drive to create the U.S. navy, and brought about the first postrevolutionary war” (2). These narratives also deeply influenced public imagination, providing many Americans with their first glimpses of the distant land of Africa, its culture and its people. Consequently, Baepler argues that by examining these once familiar stories, recognizing where they overlap and borrow from the tradition of Indian captivity and slave narratives, allows us to develop a more nuanced understanding of how racial categorization and perceptions of “otherness” developed in America. Perhaps one of the most fascinating qualities of these Barbary captivity narratives is their incredible diversity. The authors present a wide range of oftentimes-contradictory attitudes and perspectives, for example, using their experiences to critique as well as justify chattel slavery in America. But what I found most interesting and perhaps most relevant to my own interests, is the absence of any verifiable female accounts of barbary captivity. Baepler reveals that the two stories in the anthology purportedly written by women are most likely false. Yet, he asserts that the “existence of these ersatz accounts suggests that the demand for ‘true’ African captivity tales, particularly accounts of women in peril, outstripped their availability” (11). I would like to further explore the public fascination with “women in peril,” and particularly the differences between male and female accounts of barbary captivity. Whereas men often pictured themselves as laboring in a “communal space,” the few accounts we receive from females emphasize isolation and confinement (16). How do these disparities provide insight into attitudes towards women’s rights in early America and how are slavery and womanhood intertwined?

Protected: Annotation: Matthew Pratt Guterl’s “Introduction” to American Mediterranean (2008)

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Annotation: Cathy Davidson’s “Preface” and “Introduction” to Revolution and the Word (1986)

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Davidson, Cathy N. “Preface” and “Introduction: Toward a History of Texts.” Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. vii-xi, 3-14. Print.

In the “Preface” to Revolution and the Word Davidson outlines four revolutions she explores in her book. Aside from the obvious, America’s Revolutionary War, she also draws our attention to three “quiet revolutions,” namely; the “Industrial Revolution,” which led to the growth of cities and changed the social fabric of the new nation, a “reading revolution” facilitated by print technology and the genre of the novel, and a revolution occurring in universities today, one that challenges disciplinary boundaries and canonicity (vii). In discussing these various revolutions, Davidson makes a compelling case for the study of early American fiction and the novel in particular. While long neglected by scholars and academics, she claims that this field can shed light on our understanding of America’s early nationhood during a time when people were still struggling to define themselves as American. In her perspective, the novel was an “inchoate form appropriate for and correlative to a country first attempting to formulate itself” (14). Davidson discusses the various roles of the novel during the turbulent years of the early republic, for instance, as a tool for the education of women. But her most provocative argument asserts that the novel figured as a point of entry for marginalized peoples, allowing them to gain “access to social and political events from which many… would have been otherwise largely excluded” (10). In essence, the novel can be seen as a place where those barred from formal political participation, especially women, could be empowered, a fertile ground where authors and readers alike could imagine the enormous potential of the new nation. Yet, these works also represent the disjunction between reality and fiction, and thus expose “versions of emerging definitions of America—version that were, from the first, tinged with ambivalence and duplicity” (10). Consequently, Davidson’s analysis of the early American novel does not simply discuss the ways in which historical circumstance gave rise to these texts, but also provides a nuanced analysis of how these texts shaped and influenced their times.

Annotation: Rosemarie Zagarri’s “Introduction” to Revolutionary Backlash (2007)

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This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Zagarri, Rosemarie. “Introduction.” Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. 1-10. Print.

In her “Introduction” to Revolutionary Backlash Zagarri discusses how the American Revolution transformed popular opinion about the role of women in politics and “initiated a widespread, ongoing debate over the meaning of women’s rights” (2). While females were unable to participate legally by “voting and holding public office,” she reveals that they nevertheless helped shaped the character of the young nation through informal channels, whether by organizing themselves or influencing their husbands and sons (2). Ultimately, the contributions females made during the Revolution appeared to herald a similar revolution for women in terms of political status and rights, a development often neglected by historians and scholars. Zagarri demonstrates how the formulation of “republican wife” or “republican mother” creates a space for women in the political life of the young republic, albeit one that remains consistent with the “gender status quo” (5). Those women who attempted to step beyond the confines of domesticity to actively pursue politics were denounced as “female politicians” and seen as a threat to the moral and social order of the new nation (5). Therefore, while the American Revolution did open up new possibilities for women and even brought debates about women’s rights into the public arena, the backlash was quick to come. New discourses emerged encouraging women to return to hearth and home, and serving the nation from within the domestic realm was once again seen as their most productive and practical use. Zagarri’s Revolutionary Backlash attempts to shed light on this period in history, to examine the “rapid shift in perceptions, and self perceptions, of women’s political role” (9). In my discussion of Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta I hope to examine how the epistolary novel, though published in 1807, continues to explore the themes of women’s rights and reinforces the prominent role women played in shaping American national identity.

Annotation: Elizabeth Hewitt’s “Introduction: Universal Letter-Writers” (2004)

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This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Hewitt, Elizabeth. “Introduction: Universal Letter-Writers.” Correspondence and American Literature, 1770-1865. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.

In her introduction Hewitt argues that authors in America’s early nationhood “so often turn to the epistolary form” because it allowed them to “theorize the kinds of social intercourse necessary to the articulation of a national identity and a national literature” (2). She claims that the genre of epistolarity is unique in that it conveys the “utopian possibilities of American democracy” while also exposing the obstacles to attaining national union (6). For instance, Hewitt demonstrates how letter writing is an act that simultaneously emphasizes the individualism of the writer and the reciprocity of his or her relationship with the reader. Yet, this reciprocity in correspondence can also be a façade that obscures submission or discord (6). Hewitt’s fascinating analysis of the inherent contradictions in epistolarity and conception of letters as “a crucial site by which democratic theory passes into social practice,” ultimately provides an important framework for my examination of Read’s Margaretta as an epistolary novel (6-7). I will extend Hewitt’s argument on letters to a consideration of how the structure of correspondence in Margaretta, namely, the shift from a multiplicity of letters at the beginning of the story to the middle section dominated by the heroine’s perspective, lends itself to the re-imagining of a coherent American national identity.